Yesterday was an inspirational day. I had the chance to sit down (via Zoom!) with Rev. Terry Kyllo and Aneelah Afzali, from Paths to Understanding for the most recent Lean In Olympia episode. We talked about this organization's mission, which is to "foster relationships of respect between wisdom communities." The statement goes on to say that they, "support and train wisdom communities in multi-faith peacemaking in their neighborhoods for the common good of our children, our planet and ourselves." Right on!
More specifically, they work to dismantle Islamophobia and curb the harmful effects of religious prejudice. But note the expansive language in the mission statement...."for the common good of our children, our planet and ourselves." Prejudice, religious bigotry, and racism diminish the lives of those persons who suffer the focus of such forces, for example Muslims suffering from Islamophobic acts. Yet this mission statement is expansive enough to name that those persons that embody religious bigotry and enact acts of Islamophobia also suffer. This is a pervasive insight of the world's wisdom traditions.....we are connected, and as it goes for you, it goes for me as well.
Yet we forget this basic wisdom. In the rush of consumerism and the marketed fear of scarcity, we forget. And relationships are the way back.
Paths to Understanding knows that real, human relationships change hearts. To meet a Muslim and hear their story, to share food with a Muslim, or even to pray shoulder to shoulder with a Muslim builds relationship. And while we might think of relationships as social affiliation, it is also an awareness of our interconnectedness at a spiritual level.
It is really difficult right now to do this kind of work, but it is good to remember and begin preparing for a time when we can regather and practice the essential skill of connecting. And as I concluded the interview yesterday I shared with Terry and Aneelah to support and partner with them in this beautiful work of helping to restore the insight of interconnection, one relationship at a time.
Program Manager for Interfaith Relations
Today is the day after the election. And though there will not be a winner determined today for the office of President, early results show a popular vote that is very close to the percentages per party from 2016. So regardless of who the eventual winner might be, we can already see that the country is (still) split when offered an ideological choice between two candidates.
But numbers aren’t the only measure of an election! In addition to the numbers there is also a feeling that has crept into the culture of political belonging which is profoundly charged and often quite polarizing. Though not always associated with each other, I believe that some of the dynamics of healthy interfaith understanding could be helpful in our wider political discourse at this time.
One of the primary “agreements” that allows for healthy interfaith dialogue is the commitment to suspending the belief that one’s own path or practice is the only correct response to matters of ultimate concern. Becoming locked in the surety of our own tradition is what author Steven Greenebaum calls, “right belief”, which he says is, “the belief that you’re right and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong” (“Practical Interfaith: How to find our common humanity as we celebrate diversity”, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014, Print, p.32).
Greenebaum is proposing that interfaith understanding and cooperation do not require us to give up or give away our deepest convictions, hopes for the world, or inner truths (in fact, please DON’T give up or give away your deep orientations to meaning as these are some of the most vital energies we have!), rather, the bold claim of interfaith cooperation and understanding is that while we might maintain deep, inner convictions, we will remain open to the way in which our interfaith partners experience the world and remain open to how our dialogue might bring forth new insights or growth to what we, ourselves, have known.
As the political rhetoric heightens in the coming days, keep an eye out for the way in which “right belief” is used as a tool to leverage allegiance and consider the high cost of this toward the hope of relating more deeply and openly with each other as people and citizens. And as we see this play out, let’s remember that there is a different way, though this way is no easy path.
Interfaith understanding, as a model of relating to others, is hard work, it is good work, and it is work that requires a high level of trust in each other. O, for a world where this level of trust and openness is a foundation to the way in which we relate to each other between our traditions and our politics.
Program Manager for Interfaith Relations
Autumn is that time of year when the seasons begin to shift from the warm, long days of summer to the shorter, darker days of winter. It is a time of year when harvests come in and activities begin to slow down and move indoors. It is a season to contemplate change. We witness the leaves falling off the trees and reflect on the passing of time, or even the span of our own lives.
There are numerous festivals and observations during this time of year across the indigenous and religious spectrum. Here is a short list of some of them:
Samhain - An ancient Celtic harvest festival that begins a new year and recognizes a liminal space between the living and the dead
Diwali - Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains celebrate the harvest and the victory of light over darkness
Sukkot is an autumnal Jewish holiday about giving thanks for the autumn harvest and commemorating the 40 years of wandering the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt
All Saints’ & All Souls’ Day are Catholic and Christian recognitions of saints and those who have died; a time to remember them and pray for them
Navratri is a Hindu autumnal holiday that is a 9-day celebration of the Divine Feminine that commemorates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness
One consistent thread through these various holidays is recognizing that life, like the long days of summer, comes to a natural end. Another through line of these holidays is that they are based around family and community. Yet there are those whose lives come to an end that do not have family to grieve them or to give them honor and recognition at their passing.
Each year in Thurston County there are persons who die and whose remains go unclaimed. One of the ways that Interfaith Works practices Sacred Service in our community is by dedicating time each year to gather and honor these people with our annual All Souls’ Day service. This annual recognition is a time to honor life and bring dignity to those who have died without family support. We also recognize the lives of those persons who have died by suicide in the past year and persons who have died while experiencing homelessness.
You are invited to attend this event online at 2 p.m. on November 1st, 2020. The event will be broadcast live from within Mills & Mills Funeral Home, who graciously host this event year after year. During our celebration we will make space to recognize persons attending the broadcast who are actively grieving and also have space open for a recognition of the shared grief we are carrying in this time of pandemic. You are invited to have pictures of loved ones who have passed with you as we do this basic, healing work of recognizing our losses and remembering our shared humanity.
Interfaith Works tackles conversations at the intersection of justice, humanity, and belief.
There are so many issues swirling around right now. Questions of public health, public safety, and public good. Everyone is struggling in some way right now, as we all try to find some sort of equilibrium during the pandemic.
We wanted to make a forum for those conversations. Check out our new facebook livestream, Lean in Olympia! Interfaith Works will be making space every couple weeks on Tuesdays at noon to have these talks on topical subjects.
Whether in the mountains or a temple, in a circle of dancers or in a silent meditation, humans look to experiences which connect them with others, with themselves, with the world, and with the transcendent. The feeling of awe while looking at a starry night sky is the same today as it was for our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago, long before any of the religions and wisdom traditions we recognize today were even close to emerging. Yet even though many of the religions we name and know today are fairly young in the long arc of human history, the effect of their presence in our lives and culture is enormous.
One of the ways we often feel the presence of religion and spirituality in our lives and culture is through identity. "I'm a Muslim", or, "I'm an Atheist", or, "I'm a Humanist", and the list goes on. While belonging and identity offer many benefits and strengths, we are also in a time when labels often precede relationship, and the results of such a sequence carries a high risk.
Interfaith relations is the commitment to prioritizing relationships before labels. The interfaith programming at Interfaith Works seeks to build understanding and cooperation between and among the diverse religious and spiritual communities of Thurston County as we work together for social justice and peace. We do this work through acts of service, development of programs that seek social change, and fostering moments of interfaith learning and sharing. As we continue on know that YOU are invited to join us in this work! Please be in touch and feel free to contact us with any inquiries, comments, or suggestions.
Interfaith Works is happy to announce that Corey Passons has joined the IW team as the new Program Manager for Interfaith Relations. This position will foster IW’s member faith community coalition and provide leadership within IW’s Program Council. We are very excited to welcome him on board!
I am thrilled to begin working with IW and contribute to the ongoing mission and outreach of the organization. There is so much to be gained when we work together toward a common goal and a common good. My hope and intention is to help facilitate this shared work as we all pursue a more just world, together.
Corey graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2016 and immediately began work here in Olympia with Community for Interfaith Celebration in the capacity of Interfaith Minister (a position that he will maintain as he works with IW).
Interfaith Works Response
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Interfaith Works is taking many steps to keep our shelter guests, staff, and entire community safe. Please read more about all the ways we are responding and how you can help.
We are gearing up to open overflow shelter space in the next week or so, and we want to make sure our community has information about what that will look like.
We are partnering with the City of Olympia to open the existing building at 2828 Martin Way to help our community accommodate our shelter guests who would otherwise be displaced due to social distancing requirements, as well as prioritizing other people who are at higher risk of negative outcomes from the contraction of COVID-19. We believe the building can hold up to 30 people and will aim to have that full over the course of the next two weeks.
Safety and behavior expectations for all of our homeless services programs will be required at this location as well.
This is a temporary need that will last as long as social distancing and shelter-in-place requirements remain in place. We are monitoring the changing landscape every day, and when social distancing requirements begin to soften, we will transition back to normal operations at our downtown location.
This interim use of the existing building does not change the plans of developing a new 60-bed shelter and 65 apartments of supported housing. Construction for this new facility is set to begin in the fall and be completed in late 2021.
Olympia Converts Martin Way Building Into Emergency Homeless Shelter
Meg Martin will become Executive Director of the Olympia-based Interfaith Works organization starting January 1, 2020. Martin, who currently oversees the organization’s Homeless Services programs for unhoused people through the Nightly Shelter, Community Care Center and Navigation Team programs, joined Interfaith Works in 2013. She helped to transform one of Interfaith Works longest standing programs – the seasonal rotating women’s shelter — into the full breadth of safety net services offered today.
She takes over at a time when the organization is preparing to grow considerably by building a 24/7 shelter facility below 65 apartments that will provide permanent supportive housing. This exciting development is in partnership with the City of Olympia, Thurston County, the State of Washington, and the Seattle-based Low Income Housing Institute. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.
Board President Catherine Carmel
Martin is a Certified Peer Counselor and a Social Worker. She earned her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Washington, Tacoma in 2013. Building from decades of dedicated volunteerism from the faith communities, she founded the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter program in 2014 with two other dedicated street outreach workers – Cassie Burke and Jefferson Doyle. Under her innovative leadership the Homeless Services program has grown significantly and positioned Interfaith Works as a trusted leader in our community response to the national crisis of homelessness.
I am honored to have the opportunity to build from the rich history of so many who have gone before me and who have taught me so much.
“I am excited to continue deepening and broadening relationships throughout all parts of our community – faith traditions of all kinds, business, service groups, tribal partnerships, service provider and community-based organizations, neighborhood associations, governmental partnerships and more. I love this community so much, and can’t wait to serve in this new capacity," said Meg Martin.
Interfaith Works is a non-profit, social justice coalition made up of over 30 diverse faith traditions. The organization brings the human and financial resources of faith communities together with business and government agencies to benefit those in need. Interfaith Works will not discriminate on the basis of ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, race, physical ability, religion or religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief, or a refusal to actively participate in a religious practice.
It was an historic turning point in the development of homeless services in our community, but there was precious little time to dwell on the Big Picture –the everyday needs of the shelter and guests demanded tremendous energy and flexibility from our managers, support staff, volunteers, and the guests too. The creativity and resilience of our shelter staff is the big untold story of this project, and this community owes them more than can ever be paid.
Through many high points and low points, the shelter has done its work of meeting people where they are, making meaningful connections and saving lives. We dove headlong into the effort to open a downtown Warming Center and then the Community Care Center in partnership with Providence Health & Services and other local service providers (which became a reality on September 13).
The whole tone and direction of our civic conversation around homelessness and affordable housing has changed in large part due to this shelter program. Compassion is alive and well, a real force shaping our public policies around homelessness and the social safety net. That alone is worth appreciating and celebrating. But there is so much more work ahead. The shelter will open at 5:00 today, as always. Our funding gap is big enough to drive a truck through. Winter is approaching. The unmet need for shelter and permanent supportive housing is daunting. Rental costs in Thurston County are rising at alarming rates, sending more people over the edge into homelessness.
We see the challenges and know they will be hard to surmount. But we also know we are on the right track, thanks to the success we’ve seen and the great community support we’ve enjoyed.
Editorial, Sept 7, 2017
A decision this week by Interfaith Works to jettison its plan for a winter warming center for Olympia-area homeless people was a tough decision, and a disappointment. But it was a pragmatic call by a group that has truly been stepping up to face and solve South Sound’s homelessness troubles when others have not… Even so, our community still needs a permanent, around-the-clock shelter. Leaders across our county need to regroup and look carefully at how to support 24-hour shelter options advocated by Interfaith Works, including a warming center for Thurston County.
Sept 30, 2017
[Olympia police chief Ronnie] Roberts said, “We can’t turn our back on that.” … When [Chief Roberts] drives through Olympia on his way to work and sees people on the streets, he doesn’t view it as a police problem. “We have a community in need,” Roberts said. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of the problem. It’s going to take far more than law enforcement. It’s going to take the business community, the city, the county, the state and social service providers.
Editorial, November 10, 2015 — Two Years Ago
Homeless shelter shows progress :Two years ago, there was a roaring controversy about locating a shelter for homeless adults in downtown Olympia. A year ago, the shelter finally opened in First Christian Church at Seventh and Franklin. To the surprise of some of its opponents, nothing bad has happened; to the great relief of its guests, a great deal of good has.
by Danny Kadden, Executive Director